12 December 2022

Christology: What we understand about Jesus.

Christology is a branch of theology, and the christ- prefix should give you the hint it specifically has to do with Christ Jesus.

Historically, christology has been about who Jesus is. Because Jesus came to earth and said some profound things about himself, and it took us Christians a few centuries to hash out those ideas.

I know; plenty of Christians insist they’re pretty self-explanatory ideas. They read the bible, and it’s plain as day! But that’s because they, like most people, greatly lack self-awareness: It wasn’t plain as day when they first became Christian. (It certainly wasn’t plain as day before they became Christian—which is why they weren’t Christian!) It became plain as day after they were exposed to Christians who explained Jesus to them, and after they were exposed to the Holy Spirit who made ’em stop rejecting every little thing they heard, stop insisting they knew it all, shut up, and listen, dangit.

It’s still not plain as day to a lot of Christians. For all sorts of reasons. They lack the humility to listen to other people or the Spirit, try to figure out Jesus for themselves, invent some “clever” ideas which are really just old heresies that’ve been tried and rejected ages ago, and won’t listen to anyone who tries to correct ’em. Some of ’em simply never read their bibles—never read the gospels, never read the Sermon on the Mount, presume Jesus thinks exactly the way they do and shares all the same prejudices, and proclaim that instead of Jesus.

Yeah, much of the reason Christianity has a thousand denominations is because Christians don’t agree about Jesus, what he teaches, and what he emphasizes. They’re not seeking Jesus’s input; or as theologians are gonna put it, they have a weak christology. They don’t value who he is, and don’t care what he’s about. They have their own ideas.

So let’s look at christology. Which examines a few particular areas of Christian theology:

  • What Jesus teaches and does—both in the first century, back in time before he came to earth, in the future during the End Times and millennium and New Earth, and of course what he’s doing right now.
  • Sin, how it affects humanity, and precisely how Jesus conquers it.
  • God’s kingdom, ’cause Jesus is after all its king. Also how he’s its king.
  • Jesus’s family. Particularly his mom, who’s a person of huge interest within Roman Catholicism. Likewise what she did and is doing.

But most of our focus in christology is how Jesus is the primary lens through which we understand God himself. Humanity doesn’t understand him correctly without Jesus.

You look at Jesus, you see God.

If we observe Jesus closely enough, it should occur to us we’re seeing God in action.

It should’ve occurred to Jesus’s students, but unfortunately he had to spell it out for them. Probably a good thing though; it doesn’t often occur to us either.

John 14.5-11 NRSVue
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, but if you do not, then believe because of the works themselves.”

Jesus’s whole purpose in coming to earth was to show us the Father. Yeah, I know; plenty of Christians are gonna insist, “You’re wrong; he came to save us from sin!” And yes, he saves us from sin too. But saving us from sin also shows us the Father: It shows us the Father loves us, wants to save us, and sent us Jesus to do just that.

John 3.16-17 NRSVue
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

’Cause there are angry Christians with unexamined christology, who claim the Father is just as outraged at sin as they are, and wants to smite us all—and would, if Jesus hadn’t intervened. Somehow Jesus isn’t one with his Father; Jn 10.30, 17.22 not in the area of compassion, anyway. Jesus so loves the world, but the Father not so much; he might be love, but he’s also just, and can’t abide sin. They even claim when Jesus took on our sins, the Father forsook Jesus ’cause sin offends him so much. Seems the Almighty is such a snowflake.

Y’see the utter mess which can be created by bad christology? You get a seriously messed-up picture of the Father. And of Jesus. And of the trinity, ’cause Christians recognized long ago the trinity is indivisible, yet these angry Christians regularly claim sin divided God. That’s heresy, y’know. Heresy might not send you to hell, but it definitely doesn’t bring you any closer to God!

Whereas Jesus is trying to bring us closer to God. He’s the way, truth, and life; Jn 14.6 he’s the one who makes the unknowable Father known. Jn 1.18 When we look at the way Jesus behaves—with his compassion, patience, kindness, love, peace, humility, and grace—we realize this is likewise how the Father behaves. Jesus’s character is God’s character. Jesus is as God is.

(Yes, because he’s God incarnate. But that’s another article.)

Bad christology.

Just as there’s such a thing as bad theology, there’s bad christology.

I already brought up people who believe the Father is one way and Jesus is another; that they don’t share the same will and character. They get this idea from pagans. I’ve heard many an irreligious person who dabbles in religious ideas, repeat the myth that the Old Testament introduces a violently angry god. Supposedly both Judaism and Christianity (and, if they have any Muslim friends, Islam; and if they’re bigoted against brown people, not) are attempts to explain away all this angry god’s rough edges and make him sound nice.

Another popular pagan idea is that Jesus is teaching one thing, and his apostles another. Supposedly Jesus describes a kingdom of works righteousness, ’cause in the Lambs and Kids people supposedly go to hell for not loving their neighbors… yet Paul tells us we’re saved by God’s grace not works… yet James tells us faith without works is dead… Which one are we to believe? Well, they go with Jesus, and they’re gonna ditch the apostles, and the Christianity which follows them, in Jesus’s favor.

Annoyingly, a lot of Christians have actually bought all this bulls---. Even teach it.

I’ve heard dispensationalists claim God actually is angry and wrathful—depending on the dispensation. In the Old Testament dispensation, sin triggered him constantly; and when you read their writings about the End Times, it seems he’s going back to his ferocious dark-god ways as soon as all the Christians get raptured. I’ve likewise heard ’em claim Jesus teaches as he does because he’s in a Law-based dispensation, and the current dispensation of grace didn’t begin until Jesus’s rapture. After that, new dispensation!—one where Jesus’s teachings, because they’re old, don’t apply.

Most of us know better than to trust dispensationalists and their cherry-picking, but too often we do our own cherry-picking in its place. Christians who reject the dispensationalists, but don’t bother to read the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus either, often believe the same bushwa pagans teach. They can’t see God’s love and grace in the Old Testament, so they reject him… but they like Jesus, so they try to see if they can have Jesus without the Old Testament. Jesus explains God as he really is, but they presume the Old Testament doesn’t, and is wrong, and they can safely ignore it. They’re “New Testament Christians”—who might quote the Old Testament whenever it backs up their points, but otherwise treat it like mythology and fiction.

Thing is, Jesus claims that God is his God. Jn 8.54 He’s not teaching some new divinity; he’s not claiming any break between the LORD who gave the Law to Moses, and the Father who sent him to save the world. Same God. And Jesus is this God, Jn 1.1, 14 the same God who created the world, Jn 1.3 the same God who gave the Law to Moses. Any Christian who wants to lop the Old Testament off the bible and preach the remainder, might claim they know and follow Jesus, but they’ve clearly rejected every connection Jesus makes between himself and YHWH. And every connection Jesus’s apostles likewise make to the God of Abraham, the faith of Abraham, and the promises the LORD made to Abraham about blessing the world through his descendants. Ga 3.8, Ge 12.3

Bad christology dismisses all the connections Jesus intentionally makes—because they don’t want a Jesus with a heritage, a backstory, and all that Old Testament baggage. And often they don’t want any of the New Testament baggage either; they don’t want apostles, who personally studied under Jesus, making authoritative statements which they now have to acknowledge. They wanna make the authoritative statements. They prefer Jesus all neatly packaged in a little white box. Makes their message simpler. Makes it so they don’t have to think all that hard, and struggle with apparent discrepancies. Makes it so Jesus never challenges them to think harder, to be better people, to love the unloveable, to take risks when they’d rather be comfortable. Helps them reduce Jesus to a simple formula… instead of him being an actual living person who’s still telling us what to do.

Watch out for such people. Read your bibles. Deal with these struggles, instead adopting any brain-dead mentality which rejects anything bothersome. Use the brain God gave you. Talk it over with fellow Christians—and the Holy Spirit; he’s extremely helpful.